I’ve been to a handful of training rooms across the industry. Some have beautiful shrines dedicated to hydronics that include functional equipment. Some have a collection of dusty posters and product samples, forgotten by time. Other than being current, there are a lot of attributes for a cool training space that you should consider when updating. If you just started to think deeply about the last time the training room was updated, it is probably time for a refresh.
To clarify for this article, when I refer to a “training room,” I mean something more than a conference room with a projector. A great training space should be a room where you can leave a customer for 15 minutes alone, and they will have a higher opinion of you and your company when you come back. It also should remind you and your employees what your mission and vision are, whether you explicitly spell that out or not.
When creating training room displays, less is more most of the time. You may be tempted to put one of every article you sell on the wall. The more of this you commit to, the more you will have to update when the logo, model number, shape, color or screen changes. Since this happens about every six months in the manufacturing world, I encourage you to be very discerning when choosing featured products.
In a contractor’s office setting, my favorite training rooms are the ones that have functional boilers that can be used to tear apart and build again. This can be great for running through a maintenance or install scenario before you find yourself winging it in one of your customer’s basements. It is the best way to become comfortable with the products you sell and screw things up in a low-impact setting.
Boiler manufacturers are generally good about giving you a good discount on a boiler for your shop or office. As a former boiler salesperson, I spent a lot less time answering questions about products that wouldn’t have required a phone call if the contractors lived with the products. It would be like a car salesperson explaining how traction control works from the description on the website versus being able to explain how it saved them from hitting a deer on their drive home last night.
Overall, the amount of troubleshooting and warranty paperwork time the distribution channel saves is generally worth the subsidized cost of the equipment for the manufacturers, so take the manufacturers up on personal-use programs.
Additionally, if you have a functional boiler in your shop, have something your customers can interact with. Part of your system may be simplified all the way down to a warm portion of floor or a functional panel radiator. A potential customer could read every page of a hydronics textbook but not quite understand what all the fuss is about without feeling a comfortably warm floor.
For manufacturers, functional products are a must. I am one of many people in our industry who retains more knowledge when I get my hands on a product and take it apart. There have been many times when I thought I understood what was happening inside of a component until I took it apart and found it worked completely differently. Well-understood products are less likely to be misapplied and returned, for the most part.
I worked for Caleffi a few years ago in one of its plants. I started in the returns department for a few months, which was common even with regional sales manager hires. I was tasked with taking apart returned items to try to figure out what went wrong. Sometimes we had to report back to the customers and let them know that the valve was full of sand or something odd like that. Most of the time, the valves were fully functional and had been misapplied or misunderstood by the customer. These were the best to take apart, because they were on the way to the recycling bin anyway.
Ask your local manufacturer, wholesaler or manufactures’ representative if you can take apart some of their old returns. In some cases, warranty issues are settled and the products are just sitting in a boneyard somewhere until they are disposed of a few times a year. They may be grateful that you will help clean out their pile. Take these parts back to your shop, crack them open and see if it is what you expected to find inside.
The reason training rooms are fresh on my mind is that my company, REHAU, just renovated our main training area at the Leesburg, Virginia office. At REHAU, we make PEX pipe, but we also make lots of other polymer products like windows, gaskets, furniture surfaces and automotive products. Before the renovation, our display area was a place where independently cool tradeshow displays came to retire. It was a little disjointed and sprinkled with products that we haven’t made for a few years. When we decided to renovate our training room last summer, the goal was to have a space that showcased the unique attributes of our products, without needing an employee to give you a detailed verbal explanation of how it works.
A lesson learned is to make your displays modular. Swappable modules allow you to keep displays fresh without major surgery. If you are mounting signs, avoid drilling holes in the wall right away. 3M Velcro adhesive strips can be useful. One of the things you would have noticed in our old showroom was a mix of a decade plus of our historic logos, branding and colors. With picture frame type displays mounted with Velcro, removable strips, you can hit print and update all your signs without patching holes or covering up old displays. During our grand opening, we decided a couple of signs weren’t the best size for the products displayed. We were able to remove them without having to call the painter back in. You can also re-level these signs without much fuss, if you didn’t get if right on the first time.
Show your products in their best-case applications. If you are a manufacturer and answer questions all day about how best to install a product, stay ahead of the questions and lead by example. The bar will be set high when you build a functional boiler for visitors. Whatever your current dream training room looks like, treat it like a normal hydronics system and make it easy to service.
Consider avoiding TVs as major parts of your display areas. If you have a TV that is more than five years old, chances are it looks like it is 20 years old. The shape and style of TVs changes so quickly that a top-of-the line flat screen purchased in 2005 may look more like a wooden wagon wheel than the current version at Best Buy. While TVs are easy to update with new content, they are a quick tell that you haven’t updated your room in a while. We went with a few short-throw projectors. You can mount these directly on the wall you are projecting on. The advantage is that you don’t walk through the beam like a traditional projector and the content is always frameless on the wall.
The key for any training space is to understand and explain the products you buy and sell. Take advantage of returns and discount programs to update your space. The industry is better off when the whole supply channel understands how the widget on the wall works, whatever that may be.
If you have a training room or display area that makes you proud, share it with us on Twitter at @PHCNews and @PlumbingEngineer.